Retail teaching legend Fred Hurvitz is retiring from the Smeal College of Business

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Although born into a family of retailers and running the business for about two decades, Fred Hurvitz has found his greatest reward in teaching hundreds of students the ins and outs of retail, marketing and business.

“I don’t like to teach something on a theoretical basis,” said Hurvitz, a marketing instructor and Kohl’s Professor of Practice in Retail Studies, who will retire at the end of 2022. “I like to give students examples, and if I’ve lived some of those examples myself, I think they understand it and appreciate it better.”

His teaching career began in the late 1970s as an adjunct professor at Smeal, carrying a full-time teaching load before becoming a full-time faculty member in 1988.

Along the way, he estimated that between 50,000 and 60,000 students went through his courses during the 45 years he taught. “I’m proud of the fact that I’ve taught so many different students,” he said.

He also helped develop and then lead the Jacobs Fellows program for exceptional seniors. The main event took them to the National Retail Federation’s annual Big Show each year in New York to present case studies, network and learn more about the industry.

“I believe the most rewarding part of teaching is seeing some of the students I’ve taught develop outstanding careers,” noted Hurvitz.

“Fred is probably one of the nicest guys you’d ever want to meet,” said Robert Novack, associate professor of supply chain management.

“He has a great sense of humor. He would drop by my office and we would always talk and have a good laugh over something,” Novack added. “He has a big heart and a passion for teaching his students, which I have a lot of respect for.”

Deep retail roots

Hurvitz’s father started Hur’s Men’s Shop in State College the year his son was born, so Hurvitz grew up working there after school and during the summers. The first store was located in the center of College Avenue, directly across from Old Main.

After Hurvitz earned a degree in accounting from Penn State in 1969, he began an MBA at SUNY Buffalo before deciding to take a job at Price Waterhouse in New York.

But two days before he was due to start, his father had emergency cancer surgery and asked his son to take over the family’s retail and apartment building business. Within a year, his father passed away, and Hurvitz—then about 23—remained in State College where he pursued an MBA at Penn State in 1983 while working full-time.

It wasn’t long before Hurvitz was approached by his golfing buddy and chairman of Penn State’s Business Department, H. Leigh “Buck” Matthews. He wanted to know if Hurvitz would be interested in teaching a retail course. He was one.

The next department head, Pete Benton, asked him if he wanted to teach more – specifically a course on channels of distribution and then an introduction to marketing. He is. By the late 1970s, he was an associate professor with a full course load.

“I was doing all that while I had a job,” Hurvitz recalled. “I didn’t think my profession would be teaching.”

He operated a number of retail businesses over the years, including three men’s clothing stores, a newsstand/smoke shop, a pants and shirt store, and a men’s and women’s clothing store in Lewistown. Even his wife, Jan, started a store called Spirit, a women’s/junior store specializing in dance and aerobics clothing.

He later moved from retail to manufacturing. The first was a company for the production of piezo ceramics; it was bought by a customer after a few years. He then started an injection molding company. In 1989, his partner bought it out so Hurvitz could focus solely on teaching.

Practical experience

Over the years, his relationships with retail organizations and market observation have shown Hurvitz how the business has changed and how new fields, such as retail analytics, have changed the industry.

“We thought a long time ago when I started, but now there’s no reason to,” he said, noting that good data can really help guide retail businesses toward success. “Retail is simply changing. When I think about who the major retailers were when I started – Sears, Kmart – they’re practically non-existent. My students don’t even know who Woolworth’s was. So the area is exciting in that way.”

Jon Grosso, who earned a bachelor’s degree in business management from Penn State in 1989, is executive vice president and director of store operations for Kohl’s. He met Hurvitz about 15 years ago when he began serving on Smeal’s Board of Visitors and wanted to connect with the retail professor to bring Kohl’s message about retail to students.

“Our similar goal was how to give students an authentic view and approach to Retail 101 in the real world,” said Grosso, who often spoke to Hurvitz’s classes about Kohl’s and the industry. “I also wanted to use these conversations as a recruiting tool and break down some of the stereotypes about retail because it has changed and evolved so much.”

Hurvitz’s dedication to the field led to his appointment as the Kohl’s Professor of Practice in Retail Studies.

“You only have to talk to Fred for two minutes and what immediately comes out is authenticity,” Grosso said. “It was a very easy decision.”

Hans Baumgartner, professor of marketing at the Smeal Chair and former head of the Department of Marketing, recalled having Hurvitz lecture.

“Fred’s teaching specialties were retail and service marketing, but he was a jack of all trades and could teach almost any course,” he said. “For example, when we had to find someone at the last minute to teach a course, Fred was always willing to help. His hands-on experience in retail and his extensive contacts in the retail industry have been invaluable to generations of students looking to build a career in retail.”

In addition, Hurvitz is well-liked, has many friends and has been a key community leader over the years, said Richard Bard, Hurvitz’s friend for five decades and former chairman of the Smeal Visitors Committee.

“He’s almost unique today in that he spent his youth, career and married life in the same community,” said Bard, founder and chief executive officer of Bard Capital Group LLC, a private equity firm with offices in Colorado. “In that role, he managed various retail and other businesses.”

“Marketing and retail are constantly changing disciplines, influenced by social media and technology. Having a professor who is ‘on the spot’ and also has real experience in retail has been a unique asset to this curriculum at Smeal,” added Bard.

His legacy

Among the many students who credit Hurvitz with helping them in their retail careers is Kara (Benson) Harvey, director of warehouse operations for ALDI Inc., Center Valley Division, who took two retail courses with Hurvitz.

“He was very passionate about retail. It was great to gain his experience and real-life knowledge through classes,” said Harvey, who graduated with a degree in marketing in 1993. She celebrates 30 years with ALDI in 2023 and has been a frequent visitor to Hurvitz’s classes over the years. . “I was able to use the purchasing information that Fred shared in class in my role as purchasing director.”

Robin Stevens, the Treasury Department’s director of Wall Street initiatives, was instrumental in appointing Hurvitz as the Kohl’s Practice Professor of Retail Studies.

“Fred is a great guy who mostly flies under the radar, but he deserves to be recognized and rewarded for his contributions to the college and its reputation among employers and students,” Stevens said. “He was so honored with the Kohl Award. It meant the world to him to be respected among his peers. He loved teaching and helping to inspire young students.”

In addition, its close relationships with numerous retailers, including Kohl’s, Dick’s Sporting Goods and Macy’s, mean a lot to Smeal’s student services, she added.

“He’s developed lifelong friendships with some of the recruits, which is a testament to his dedication and how well-regarded he is among employers,” Stevens said. “He knows his students well, inspires them to want to work for these companies, helps them prepare for internships and encourages them along the way. This type of influence is very, very important to employers as they seek to hire the best and brightest. And they can rely on Fred to train them properly.”

Current marketing department chair Meg Meloy praised Hurvitz as an instrumental part of the Smeal faculty for decades. “His work to introduce new programs that elevated the department’s retail offerings influenced a generation (or two) of students,” she said.

She praised Hurvitz’s role in developing and leading the Jacobs Fellows program, named for Melvin Jacobs, a Penn State graduate and former chairman and CEO of Saks Fifth Avenue.

In a video tribute to Hurvitz in celebration of his retirement, Meloy talked about how helpful he had always been, even when she was a student at Cornell in the 1990s. She said Hurvitz allowed her to talk to students in his BA 303 Marketing class to gather insights into their decision-making processes.

“That theme of continuing to gather insights in your classroom carries over to future generations of Smeal graduate students,” she noted. “You have supported the educational mission of all Smeal students.”

She added: “You were a really critical part of the college and you will be missed. Enjoy your well-deserved retirement.”

What’s next

Hurvitz said he looks forward to playing golf three or four days a week, but wouldn’t turn down an opportunity to serve as an expert witness for national civil cases focused on retail.

His first case occurred several years ago when an 85-year-old woman was injured in a stampede of shoppers to buy Cabbage Patch dolls during Kmart’s post-Thanksgiving sale. He testified for plaintiffs about how other retailers safely managed the flow of customers while selling products that were in demand. The woman won her case.

“I won’t take a case if I don’t believe in the cause,” he said.

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